My interest in the nightclub scene started when I was a free-lancer writer for Fanfare magazine in the 1960s. The scene, which stretched all the way, almost unabated, till the mid 2000s, could be described as Singapore’s after hours golden age. For a so-called “cosmopolitan” city, Singapore today is a lifeless place past midnight, if we do not count those shady spots in Geylang etc catering to a different clientele.

The nightclubs I had to visit for stories included Tropicana, Golden Venus, Boiler Room, Barbarella, Fountain, Pink Panther, Kelong, Singapore Lady (a ship off Collyer Quay).  For night entertainment, the scene got livelier and livelier over the years. Others sprang up, with a barrage of big-time discos.

Fire, Sparks, Rumours, Scandals. Kasbah, Xanadu, Atlantis.,Peppermint Park, Zouk, Rainbow Lounge – some of these were no mere small time drink and dance places, they were huge nightclubs that required big financial commitments.

For a while, Dennis Foo’s Europa nightclubs were a dominant force, whether in Shangrila Hotel, Changi Village or Tanglin.

As the big boys sparked up the night in the traditional touristic belt, something was quietly happening in an unexpected corner of the island even as a similar development was also taking place in yet another corner. By that time, I was already in Times House. I was starting to do work till late at night.

To continue the story and make it more direct, I shall mention just five names.

Conrad Raj/Peter Wong

One evening after work, he pulled me to Mohd Sultan Road, which was off River Valley Road. We dropped in a pub called Front Page. There I learnt that Peter Wong, a sub-editor at The Business Times where Raj was also working,  saw a lot of potential in the area. He expected a number of shop houses were coming up for sale. He would try his hand first with The Front Page, aptly named because of Wong’s journalistic background. Wong expected many of the journalists in Times House which was just up River Valley Road would support and patronise his pub. And there was absolutely no reason why Mediacorp and other journalists would not welcome this watering hole set up by a fellow newsman,

The pub not only thrived. It made Wong a household name as a pub-owner. Among the other pubs he added to his stable were Next Page, Madame Wong and Newsroom. He even ventured into Shanghai.

Michael Chua/Sunny Tan

Before Duxton Road off Tanjong Pagar Road turned “sleazy”, it was an exciting addition to the Singapore night life. The rows of pubs in Duxton were patronised by “normal” people. One particular pub stood out – JJ Mahoney – run by Chua and Tan, husband and wife, who were experienced hands. They ran the pub with a friendly touch, treating their clients like family members, calling out most by names. Totally relaxing place.

Maureen Hiew

Some time in the 1980s, a Moroccan landed in Singapore and, among other things, he threw money to develop an entertainment complex called Planet Marina in the reclaimed land off Marina Bay.

Maureen Hiew was asked to manage a pub called Paisley Pub.

It was an interesting place. There was a horseshoe stage and ample seats around the club where patrons can talk and listen at the same time to the evergreens belted out by the band.

What’s unusual about these three places, Front Page, JJ Mahoney and Paisley Pub?

They were successfully run by owners/managers who liked their jobs and businesses. And it showed.

In all the time I knew the people behind these night spots of the 1990s, they enjoyed their businesses.

We lack such entrepreneurs these days.

Indeed we lack entrepreneurs who can help Singapore become less boring.

Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.